At last, the recognition that men get PMT too

This is a breakthrough that will allow us monthly dramas and mood swings
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The Independent Online

Now that men may be about to achieve parity in one of the most important and intimate areas of gender difference, it is perhaps the moment to make a small personal confession. This is not the kind of thing that one would mention at certain gatherings - at a stag party or in the dressing-room before a football match, it would be a complete non-starter - but here, in mixed company, I can be open about it. I have always had a secret hankering to menstruate.

Now that men may be about to achieve parity in one of the most important and intimate areas of gender difference, it is perhaps the moment to make a small personal confession. This is not the kind of thing that one would mention at certain gatherings - at a stag party or in the dressing-room before a football match, it would be a complete non-starter - but here, in mixed company, I can be open about it. I have always had a secret hankering to menstruate.

There is nothing creepily sexual here - the physical aspects are irrelevant - but the mysterious little female drama that occurs once every four weeks is surely rather enviable. Not only does it liberate you to take on a different persona for a few days, but it provides a ready-made excuse for all kinds of excesses and bad behaviour. Where men's moods are mundane and everyday, going through varying shades of grey and interesting no one in particular, women's are dramatic and important, in touch with the moon and the tides. During those moments of renewal, the most garish and colourful behaviour is not only understandable but is part of nature, a simple fact of life.

Or, at least, it was. Not before time, we may be about to cross this last frontier of gender exclusiveness. Next month, the results of a research project conducted by Dr Aimee Aubeeluck of the University of Derby are to be presented to the British Psychological Society. According to a sneak preview offered by The Sunday Times, its findings are likely to be explosive.

When a group of 50 men and 50 women was asked to report monthly symptoms that are normally associated with pre-menstrual syndrome - pain, shortness of temper, loss of concentration and changes in behaviour - it was found that the results transcended gender. In fact, a slightly higher number of men than women reported problems. From there, Dr Aubeeluck will daringly suggest that cyclical behaviour hitherto blamed on changes in hormone levels in women may, in fact, have some other cause. Some kind of mysterious infection might even be to blame.

So what has always been a tricky area of domestic etiquette for men - acknowledge it with a cheery question and you are sexist, ignore it and you are insensitive - has just become that much more problematic. The great, undiscussed phenomenon that has had us tip-toeing around the house, cowering in corners, fetching cups of tea and apologising with every sentence, may turn out not to be a mysterious, dangerous woman thing after all. It was merely an infection which could afflict anyone.

If Dr Aubeeluck is right, a mighty shift in gender relations is about to take place. One does not have to have seen that great (and embarrassing) celebration of female sexuality The Vagina Monologues to know that, for the modern-minded woman, the most basic of human functions can have an intense spiritual dimension.

In America, which leads the world in such matters, there is a highly successful website - run, bizarrely, by a man - called the Museum of Menstruation, containing period-related news, lore and art from around the world, and a new brand of feminine product called Dittie has been put on the market this summer with huge success. The makers of Dittie argue that the tampon should no longer be a source of embarrassment but of pride. On each wrapper will be contained a stirring affirmation of feminine life. Some are informative ("Celebrate Courtney Cox, the first woman to say 'period' on TV"), others are couched in therapy-speak ("When I love my body, my body loves me"), while a few are dashingly frank ("My secret sauce is my secret power source").

Focus groups of teenagers asked the question, "If your tampon was a celebrity, who would it be?", and Oprah Winfrey topped the survey, followed by Angelina Jolie. Ditties will take the taboo out of the monthly cycle, its company president Barbara Carey has told the press. Indeed, it is more than a health product. "It's a movement. It's a culture of women coming together. It's a friend there in the bathroom with you."

Until now, men have been bewildered, and maybe slightly frightened, by this kind of aggrandisement of the intimate and physical. A mighty juggernaut of propaganda has, over the past three decades or so, established as fact the idea that women, by their physical natures, are closer to the natural core of things, more in touch with all that is instinctive, visceral, good and true, than men could ever be. We have to be content to float on the margin of things, self-conscious and semi-detached. Who ever heard of Father Nature or referred to an earth-father figure?

So maybe we should embrace Dr Aubeeluck's survey, and see it as a breakthrough that will add colour to the lives of men and allow us monthly dramas and mood swings. We, too, can be part of the great chain of being. Our moods will no longer belong to a lower order of human behaviour - temper tantrums, pathetic little paddies - but will have a natural grandeur, as if they are small personal earthquakes or the eruption of volcanoes. We may not be in the market for Ditties, but we can take the taboo out of the male sulk and give it the dignity it deserves.

terblacker@aol.com

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